After laying the foundation stone for a memorial to Dr B R Ambedkar at Dadar’s Indu Mill last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hailed Dalit leaders from different factions for having forgotten their differences to come together for the cause. Days after the bhoomipujan, many of the Dalit leaders have figuratively united once again, this time in their criticism of the memorial’s design.
The design looks very preliminary, is not impressive enough to attract global attention, and has been created without taking the opinions of Ambedkar followers into consideration, the Dalit leaders say.
“If you look at the design right now, it looks more like a joggers’ park than a memorial. We are not at all satisfied,” said Anandraj Ambedkar, grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar.
Anandraj, who heads the Republican Sena, said he understood that there was not much scope for construction, the plot being in the Coastal Regulation Zone.
“But the statue and structures can certainly be more grand. Currently, they are not striking enough. We should get an architect of international repute for a project so special. The government should also consider the suggestions and objections from the Dalit community. They were never asked what they would like to see in their beloved leader’s memorial,” he said.
Anandraj added that he supported the bhoomipujan for the memorial despite the current design as it was a formal initiation of something that he had been demanding for years. “It’s a very good thing that the government has conducted a bhoomipujan for the memorial, but we are going to make it very clear that the current design cannot be followed. The other Dalit leaders also feel the same,” he claimed.
Jogendra Kawade, a legislator in the Maharashtra Upper House and founder president of the People’s Republican Party, said, “The design that the architect presented to the Prime Minister on the day of the bhoomipujan seemed very preliminary. The government should set up a technical committee of experts on Buddhism, reputed architects from different Buddhist countries, and well-known people from the construction industry before finalising the memorial’s design.”
Kawade said the memorial’s design must include a ‘State of Equality’, a larger-than-life sculpture of Ambedkar facing the ocean like the New York’s Statue of Liberty.
“It should form an impressive part of Mumbai’s skyline. It should be the first thing that visitors landing in Mumbai lay their eyes on,” Kawade added.
The current design, created by a local firm under architect Shashi Prabhu, has a 150-foot tall statue of Ambedkar. However, as per blueprints, it is planned to face the city, and not the ocean. Overall, the memorial is to come up on a 4.8-hectare sea-front plot adjacent to Chaityabhoomi.
Besides the towering statue, the Rs 425-crore memorial will also comprise a 25,000-square-foot stupa with a bronze canopy around a pond, a museum, an auditorium, a library, parking facilities and ample green cover. The memorial at Indu Mill was a long-standing demand of all Dalit leaders who had led several protests and demonstrations for it.
Vijay Kamble, a Dalit leader who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before the Assembly elections last year, said he had a quick word with Prime Minister Modi on the day of the bhoomipujan about the design. “I requested him that the government should not finalise the design till we approve it. My suggestion was to construct a section on one side of the memorial for all Ambedkar followers who visit Chaityabhoomi in large numbers on his birth and death anniversaries, so that they can freshen up, have a bath and have some refreshments before proceeding to Chaityabhoomi. That is not reflected in this design,” he said.
Kamble said he did not have a problem with the architect selected by the government but insisted that the plan would have to be changed.
However, Ramdas Athawale, president of the Republican Party of India, an ally of the BJP, chose to toe the state government’s line. “If there are some good suggestions, we are ready to consider them. But certainly, the entire plan cannot be altered,” he said.
Dilip Kawathkar, spokesperson for the MMRDA that will undertake the project, said the government would hear all objections and address them appropriately.